Stranger Things 3 (“The Sauna Test”)

Season 3, Episode 4
Date of release: July 4, 2019 (Netflix)

Things got a little tense in this episode, as it was celebrating the point-of-no-return with an action scene that had the heroes somewhat win a battle against the villain, which is against the rules of writing for television. While the kids were certainly not able to kill the mind flayer or free Billy from its influence, they still won that fight against the supernatural, even though the rules say that the first fight against the villain is always to be lost, as it serves as a breaking point for the characters, and an assertion to the viewers that the villain is not to be screwed with. Then again, STRANGER THINGS has always been just a little different, and what the fight between Eleven and Billy/the mind flayer showed is that they know of each other’s presence now. That the mind flayer is a ridiculously evil villain is already known, but now the season has established knowledge. The mind flayer and his hosts and foot soldiers can prepare for the fight that will most likely come to them, and the party around Eleven can gather more strength (and foot soldiers) to prepare for the fight which will ultimately come.

I loved that it took a while for the mind flayer to take over his host and make his presence known to Will, because for a moment I was wondering if Max would start feeling the guilt and let Billy free, right as he was turning evil. There actually was this great siblings moment between the two, making me realize that Billy and Max could in fact be brother and sister who like and respect each other, who could hang out every once in a while, with him helping her out with homework and stuff. It would have meant that Max’s moment in the previous season finale left a lasting impression with Billy and he really was trying to change and let the bad boy persona go. It makes me wonder if there will be such a scene by the end of the season, something in the vein of Max saving Billy from his ultimate demise by the hands of the mind flayer, building an unbreakable bond of respect between them. Then again, Billy could be sacrificed as a character — after all, maybe this season needs another main character killed off near the end, like Bob was sacrificed for the greater good in the previous season.

Side note: Let’s not forget that Dacre Montgomery is playing his villainous character extremely convincing. The Red Ranger is doing the perfect villain. I was not expecting that when the writers decided to carry Billy over to the third season. I was not expecting that from a cast member of the POWER RANGERS movie revival.

Erica has it up to here with this ventilation shaft bullcrap!

In the meantime, let’s just hope that it won’t take so long for Joyce and Hopper to join the group, as well as for the folks in the impromptu elevator to be discovered, although I do see the latter as the beginning of a plot device to tell the viewers that the Russians are not at all evil. Yes, they may have been working on getting the gate open and free the monster, but as established by me already, it would be a terrible way for humanity to end. Maybe the Russians have found a way to eradicate the mind flayer forever, but they need the gate open to lead him to its ultimate doom, which is what has been happening in Hawkins. Maybe Steve, Robin, Dustin and Erica will get to learn exactly that, and since they have some working knowledge about the mind flayer and even fought against his demodogs, their experience might be of worth to potential good Russians who just want to save the world. Imagine Joyce/Hopper and Eleven’s party to find out what’s going on below Starcourt, and they find Steve, Robin, Dustin and Erica gleefully working with the Russians to stop the mind flayer from taking over the world — it would be a hilarious scene, it would easily unite all the groups into one party for the fight, and it would add more mature characters and soldiers who can be fodder for the mind flayer and his allies. But then again, maybe the Russians really are evil and they will keep the teens in jail cells below Starcourt.

Besides that, I loved that Erica gets this much screentime now. Maybe the writers loved writing for the character in the previous season (although she barely had screentime then), or maybe the show needed to have an innocent and clueless character added to the narrative, just to repeat the way the first season was told. That Erica turned out not to be clueless at all levelled up the comedy elements of the episode, which was a good choice. Her John McClain moment in the ventilation shaft was all sorts of cool and I even loved her capitalist selfishness when she told the guys and Robin that she is only ready to help them out when she gets free ice cream for life. Steve and Robin probably accepted, knowing they will quit the job at the end of the summer, and at one point Erica will probably not feel good only eating ice cream.

The hero and the villain battle it out for the first time.

The rest of the episode was slow in comparison, but it was moving the needle. Both Joyce/Hopper and Nancy made their own additional discoveries (although I don’t know if Nancy realized what was happening, when Mrs. Driscoll started going crazy while the lights were flickering, and if she connected that with the mind flayer’s presence) and they will probably have to fight for their lives pretty soon. Nancy has it a little easier, because she is distanced from eventual government agencies watching closely what is happening in Hawkins, but she might be onto the dangers from the Upside Down much sooner that Joyce and Hopper will most likely be, who might as well have a better chance finding the Russians than the monster. But this is still a good idea: Every individual group over the past two episodes made their own advances within the narrative, which the writers can then add at the end of the season, as if STRANGER THINGS is just one big supernatural math lesson. Two values have already been added together (Eleven/Max and the boys) and now it’s time to get the rest into the equation.

Plus points for the writers having figured out what to do with Nancy in the long run. I don’t think any of the characters besides her have been created with a future for them in mind. Okay, maybe Jonathan, who could easily become a photographer, but with Nancy’s effort to follow up on a major story by herself, it makes her feel like she is destined to be a star reporter or investigative journalist in the future. Someone who would work at the New York Times in the 21st century and working to dig into the financial past of the current president of the United States, finding out all the skeletons in every one of his closets.

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